Monday, March 31, 2008



This week, I am moving to Tel Aviv for some time.

I know that everybody says so but I really mean it, as I cannot imagine leaving Jerusalem for good. I have many things to do in Tel Aviv and besides, moving there gives me the opportunity writing about the local religious and especially about Bnei Brak. I think there are more chassidic Tishes on Shabbat than in Jerusalem. Vishnitz has already two Tishes at the moment, due to the fight between the two sons of the present Vishnitzer Rebbe. And the Sadigora Rebbes is located in Bnei Brak as well as the Shomrei Emunim Rebbe.
It won't be boring.

However, I will be in Jerusalem at least twice a week, as I am not leaving my bakery job. Not only because of the bakery but I don't want to loose touch with friends and places in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, I am also looking forward to Tel Aviv. Sometimes Jerusalem is too intense and small. I feel like I need to get out and see other people and experience something else. Of course, Tel Aviv is seen as the heart of the Israeli secular. It probably is but I don't need to mention that there are also many religious around. It is not my first stay in Tel Aviv, as I have lived there before. I know the city and the very different mentality. People there used to drive me nuts many times. Everybody seems to be in a rush, running after money and gossiping about Haredim. Jerusalem is more relaxed, people take it more easy but also gossip about Haredim. You choose where you belong…

And, I will come to Jerusalem for Shabbat. To Rabbi Mordechai Machlis and the Mea Shearim Tishes; not to forget Belz.

Photos from Bnei Brak

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Out of the Blue


After Shabbat, I usually write about the chassidic Tishes my friend and I visited, but this time I am writing in a rather unsual way. I am writing about the Tish without mentioning the group's name.

What I can say is that for Maariv we went to the Karlin - Stolin Synagogue and had dinner afterwards at Rabbi Mordechai Machlise's house. At the dinner table I met a mother and her son from Luxembourg who are readers of my German blogs. When I saw them eating in such a distinguished way, I realized how "disgusting" Israeli I already am. The mother took a knife and put the Humus gently on her slice of Challah. We non - behaving locals on the other hand, just dipped the Challah into the Humus.

Right after dinner, my friend and I went to a chassidic Tish. First, I wasn't really planning to go to this particular Tish, as I wanted to see something else. However, on our way out of the Machlis building someone said that he is going to this group so I decided to go as well. We have been to this particular chassidic group many many times before and although located in Mea Shearim, they are considered as a little more moderate.

There was nothing unusual with the Tish. However, the Chassidim seemed to be still tired from Purim and the Rebbe had to wake them up. Slowly slowly he succeeded and they started to sing and participate. The Ezrat Nashim looked rather abandoned. First we couldn't find a good seat and decided to stand right behind some women behind the Mechitzah. It didn't take too long and an approx. 13 - year - old - girl from the group approached my friend in Yiddish and Hebrew. As my friend doesn’t really speak one of these languages, she referred the girl to me. I told her that I understand Yiddish but my talking isn't too good.
No problem, she spoke Hebrew.

Right away the girl invited us for a Shabbat dinner in her home. She said that her father is a Rosh Yeshiva in a different part of the country and his Yeshiva takes care of young guys who were thrown out of other Yeshivot. Guys with all kinds of personal problems. In order not to loose them to the secular society, her father gives them and chance and tries to keep them on the religious path. Furthermore, he offers Shabbat meals in his Mea Shearim home. Especially for American Yeshiva guys but we are also invited.

I was very happy about the invitation. Not only right into the heart of Mea Shearim but I started to become interested in speaking to her father about his Yeshiva. How does it work within closed chassidic society dealing with rebels or those "off the derech". I didn't really ask for her address but instead we talked about how important it is keeping such people in the religious world. We had a very open conversation and despite her young age, she seemed to be very mature. I told her that I do understand people who want to leave chassidic society. Not everyone born into it fits into Satmar, Vishnitz or any other group. Many people don't fit into any group and rather need a life without all the society pressure. The girl agreed which surprised me a bit. But, as I said, despite her age she reminded me more of a social worker than of a chassidic girl from a closed society.

Both of us enjoyed the conversation and more and more women and young girls moved a little closer in order to listen. I can assure you that there were many women who showed extreme interest in our conversation and liked to listen to it. However, two elderly women did not. Suddenly another teenager girl appeared and whispered something into the ear of the girl I was talking to. Within seconds, the girl said "Shabbat Shalom" and disappeared. This was the end of our conversation.

My friend then told me that two women had watched us all the time. Well, we already noticed these two women a while ago, as they were always watching us. As soon as they saw us, they started whispering among each other. Once I thought about going over to them and ask if they have a problem but in the end, I didn't. Why should I do this ? If they have a question or problem, they should come over and clarify everything. My impression is that these particular women are some kind of gossips and from a chassidic woman I do expect a certain kind of behaviour and not whispering Lashon HaRah (idle talk) behind someone's back.

Obviously one of the women had sent another teenager who told the girl not to speak to us. I simply call this a "Chutzpah".
The strange thing was that the girl I had spoken was constantly watching me from her new seat. Other women did the same and even smiled at me. Even the Rebbitzen and I am sure that the Rebbitzen didn't know at all what was going on. I, on the other hand, decided to stay davka. We even found good seats. The two women kept quiet and stopped watching us. I wasn't upset but started thinking if I ever could join a group. Most of the time I am very open and talk in an open manner. If I entered such a society, they would probably fire me after two weeks. Maybe even after two days.
I felt sorry for the girl and hope that she is not in trouble.
Half an hour later, the girl came up to me again. She did so in a hidden way; behind the metal benches. She told me that she is leaving now and we both had the look in our eyes that we will continue the discussion at another time and somewhere else.

To be quite honest, I am not sure what to do. Should we go back to the same Tish this coming Shabbat or would it look too obvious. We have nothing to hide and I don't see the point why we should give in to two gossip women. My friend claimed that those women might only want to protect their own society. A point I don't really accept. If I have a problem with someone, so I go at least over for clarification. And besides, one of the women was very busy herself talking to two Israeli girls and explaining them the Tish and the Rebbe.

One thing for sure: We will go back but I don't know if this will be this week. I definitely want to speak to the girl again and would love to go to her home for Shabbat. It would be great speaking to her father about "off the derech - difficulties" in chassidic society.

Friday, March 28, 2008



The weather in Jerusalem is just perfect. Sunny and warm.
But realistically speaking, the weather is anything but perfect, as we are still waiting for more rain to come. Unfortunately, the raining period seems to be over.
Israel always suffers from the same problem; we haven't had enough rain for many years and the See of Galilee (Kinneret) is loosing its water. Land which used to be under water are now beaches and dried out. If it doesn't rain more soon, we are going to face serious problems.

Israel is the only country in the world belonging to G - d, and it says that if we keep the Mitzwot, He will protect the country. However, in the "Shema Israel - prayer" we do pray for rain. Hopefully the situation will change soon and it will rain more.

This Shabbat is going to be as usual:
Maariv at Karlin - Stolin, Shabbat meal at the Machlises and chassidic Tishes.
Last night, Israel changed the time to daily saving and therefore, Shabbat starts an hour later tonight. If you are planning to go to the Tishes of Toldot Aharon or Avraham Yitzchak, take into consideration that those places don't change their clocks and start as usual - as usual if you consider the time during the winter. According to our time it will be at about 11pm. Belz will change their Tish time from 9pm to 11pm.

Shabbat Shalom - Gut Shabbes - שבת שלום ומבורח

The Belzer Synagogue by night (Jerusalem)

Inside the synagogue

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Right Way Out ?


Anyone reading this blog on a regular basis knows that I am dealing a lot with the subject of religious Jews (in particular Haredim) who are planning or have already left religious society. This subject is very important too me, as I once, at a certain point of my life, have left haredi society myself.
However, when I "left", I didn't really intend to leave and therefore the word "leave" didn't really apply to me. Let's rather call it "taking a break". To you "taking a break" might sound like an excuse for taking time off and messing around. The first few weeks, it definitely was like that; some kind of messing around and not keeping too much (or nothing). Forget about the Mitzwot for a while and after some weeks or months come back.

Of course, there is a danger in such kind of behaviour. When you are so fed up with religion, society and yourself, it is better to take a break than remaining constantly in depression and start doubting everything. I didn't want to leave religion let alone G - d; as I described, I simply was fed up with a pushy haredi society and with pushing myself.

However, you cannot just decide to go out, put a big piece of ham into your mouth and thus show your rebellion. Make it clear to society that you are fed up and don't give the famous damn. The Haredim react in different ways and I was surprised to experience that. Only very few reacted with disgust but the majority showed some form of patience. They said that it is just a short period in my life and then I will return to religion anyway.

I decided to take some time off, see something else and think about something else. So, I went to Germany where everything is totally different. What I forgot to take into consideration was that there, no one would know what I am talking about at all. In Germany, Jews don't have a clue about Israeli or New York haredi life. They see a Chabadnik and think that they are in the middle of Mea Shearim. Almost all of my friends were Gentiles anyway. Germany is not like England or the States where you are able to find plenty of Jewish friends. If you don't live in Frankfurt, Munich or Berlin, you just don't have Jewish friends, as there are none. Unless you are looking for some reform converts. And who needs them ?

The whole subject is still in my mind because I was never able to find a solution why it happened to me and how I should get out of this. I know that as soon as I would ask an orthodox rabbi, especially a chassidic rabbi, he would answer me that I should make a move and do something instead of weeping around. Act and don't sit and think. Maybe this is my problem, who knows. Nevertheless, I am always of the search for the perfect solution and maybe I should first be looking for the root of the problem instead of jumping into something anew.

For me it turned out very positive by taking some time off. Although the "off - time" is anything but enjoyable. As soon as you do the opposite of keeping the Mitzwot, the guilt feeling starts crawling into your thoughts. Once on a lunch break, I entered a certain German butcher store and asked for an anything but a kosher sandwich. The moment I ordered it I thought that everybody in this particular shop would cry out and tell me to leave. "This meat is not for you. You have to keep kosher."

But it was not the guilt feeling letting me come back to religion. After a while I simply thought that all the messing around is stupid and doesn't make any sense. This was the moment when I took my religious books out of the closet and started rethinking my crises.

As I said before, I never wanted to leave religion but only a break. I once heard from a rabbi that a religious crises can be positive. Of course, you can fall very deep but when you finally get out, you might even be on a higher level than before. Especially Rabbi Nachman of Breslov warns in writings against depression and does speak positive about a return.
I can imagine that there are many people like me. Not everybody is made for being in a sometimes pushy haredi society. When you are born into society, it is even harder to realize that you are at the wrong place.

A few days ago I looked at the website of the Israeli organization "Hillel". Hillel helps Haredim who want to leave society in order to start a new life. A new life which has nothing to do with religion. Someone who has made up his mind can call Hillel. The number is on the Internet but due to security reasons, Hillel avoids mentioning its address. They used to have some violent revenge reactions going on when Haredim stormed their office some years ago.

When I was in the middle of my own crises years ago, I held the phone number of Hillel in my hand and thought about calling them. Then I knew their location and was sitting for three hours in a park right across their office. In the end I decided not to call.
A national religious social worker had warned me. As soon as you enter the Hillel program, you can forget about religion. They give you a place to live, maybe a job, send you out to get some education and reorganize your life. Volunteers will help you. However, their main goal is to get you away from religion.

But what about when you are at the moment fed up but only temporarily ? What if you take time off but you intend to return later on ? Especially then Hillel is not the right place, as they are totally secular. Imagine, you are showing up with your personal emotional baggage and a secular Hillel volunteer is organizing your life. What does he know about what you are going through ?
In Jerusalem, maybe also at other place, the municipalities offer much better solutions. They have special social workers who try to make a compromise between runaways and their parents. A solution I prefer much more and in the end turns out to be more effective. Even when you decide to leave, it is always better keeping up a relationship with your parents. In this respect, Hillel fails, as their intention is not a compromise between the runaway and his former environment. But everybody has to decided for himself what is best for him.

If you are only on your "off time", Hillel is a waste of time. So, what then is the best way for you ? Talking to a rabbi or competent social worker ? Even if not, after a while you will eventually find yourself somehow, and then slowly make your decisions and slowly come back.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Chassidic Tish Guide Part 5 - Chassidut Kretchnif


If you still haven't heard about the Kretchnifer Chassidim, it is high time visiting their Rebbe's Tish. Although Kretchnif has different Rebbes (in Jerusalem, Rehovot, Haifa or New York), I am only concentrating on the Jerusalemer Tish of Rebbe Nissan Chaim Rosenbaum.

To me Kretchnif was the same as the Slonim; a friend of mine recommended them. After different people described me the way how to get there, I didn't face any problems finding the place. Actually it is very easy to find the Kretchnifer Synagogue. Right across Karlin – Stolin and the Satmarer Beit Midrash. And as usual, my friend and I started looking for the women's entrance to the Ezrat Nashim. But we were lucky at the first time. Two other girls had just walked out and showed us the way.

Last summer, the Kretchnifer Tish seemed to be a temporarily solution for us. Our favourite Rebbes of Toldot Aharon and Avraham Yitzchak were on vacation abroad and we were desperately looking for other Tishes. It was actually a positive opportunity looking for other groups and not always getting stuck at the same Tishes over and over again. But whoever considers Kretchnif as a temporarily solution might be very mistaken. A visitor of their Tish should stay as long as possible and look around, as there is so much to see. Especially the giant cakes later on.

The Kretchnifer Tish starts between 10pm – 10.30pm. The Rebbe finishes at about 2.15 in the morning.

Tish Video

Purim at Kretchnif

Rebbe Nissan Chaim Rosenbaum at the Mitzwe Tanz with his daughter who got married.

The one's of you looking for a small cozy chassidic Tish, should definitely go to Kretchnif. It is extremely easy getting in touch with the other 40 – 50 Chassidim and Rebbe Nissan Chaim Rosenbaum refers to everybody. No wonder that many Chassidim from other groups like to come to his Tish: Toldot Aharon, Avraham Yitzchak, Satmar, Karlin, Gur, etc. Everybody is welcomed and gets food (shirayim) from the Rebbe. There is even cold beer which is divided among the Chassidim. Unfortunately only among the men. As usual. However, my friend and I made some secret plans of bringing a bottle of our own. Who can resist during a hot summer night ?

The Rebbe eats a whole meal. He has the habit of sniffing on a small silver box. What is inside ?
My friends says SNUFF and I say BE'SAMIM (HERBS). Which one of us is right ?

The synagogue is rather small and the Ezrat Nashim is even tinier.

The Rebbe loves to sing and swing with his arms. In many ways he somehow reminds me of Rebbe Shmuel Yaakov Kahn of the Toldot Avraham Yitzchak. Rebbe Rosenbaum usually gives at least two Derashot (Torah teachings) but it is very hard to understand him. Not only in the Ezrat Nashim but even his Chassidim move closer as soon as he talks.

In order to get in touch with the Kretchnifer women, you have to be a regular at the Tish. After they see you a few times, they start talking to you. Especially the Rebbitzen. She is a very nice lady who, same as her husband, refers to everyone.

According to our experience, Kretchnif is the only group handing food out to the women. Only some slices from the giant steaming cake but never mind. It smells so good when the cake is coming out and you should see the Chassidim lining up.

However, the best event is the Rebbe's dance. He does it for some minutes only by himself. He is moving backwards and forwards right in front of his chair. Afterwards him and the Chassidim build a circle and dance. You should see the Rebbe running in front of the Chassidim. He is so fast that others have difficulties to follow.

The Kretchnifer Tish is highly recommended and interesting to see. A family atmosphere just like in a bigger living room. Unfortunately, the Mechizah is to low for me and after a while my back starts hurting.

The Mechitzah consists of metal pieces and so far, we were able to see everything. Some weeks ago, the Krechtnifer obviously decided to put some plastic on the metal. This plastic is not too good for the eyes and after some time you are dizzy. Maybe someone could tell the Chassidim to take down the plastic.

Location: Avinoam Street, across Karlin – Stolin.

The entrance to the Ezrat Nashim is to the left of the back of the building. Walk in on the left side, turn right and walk up all the stairs. Don't get too tired in the staircase. Then go out onto the porch left and turn right again.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A very chassidic Purim


Someone at the Purim party at Rabbi Mordechai Machlis said that these Purim celebrations have been her best Purim celebrations ever. First I thought this sounds exaggerated but in the end, I do agree with her, as I can make the same claim.

In the years before, I used to go to Chabad for the Megillah reading and this was basically it. Compared to the Chassidim in Mea Shearim, Chabad doesn't know how to celebrate. At least not at the Tzemach Zedek Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter.
This time, as mentioned before, I went with a friend to Mea Shearim for the first Megillah reading and we enjoyed it very much. I can only recommend the Great Breslov Synagogue in Mea Shearim Street. The people are nice and the Baal Koreh was incredible.

Yesterday, on Purim Shushan in Jerusalem, we first went to the party at Rabbi Mordechai Machlises house. It was so packed that we thought we wouldn't fit in anymore. But we did. The food was, as usual, great. Thanks to Rebbitzen Henny Machlis and the kitchen team (the Machlis daughters). The guests were drunk but still behaving well.

At about 7pm, I went with two friends of mine to Mea Shearim. One is mostly accompanying me anyway and the other one, has never been to a Tish but was so anxious to go.

I think that many people from outside the haredi world didn't know that there are huge celebrations taking place in Mea Shearim last night. Starting in the late afternoon and finishing at about 10pm. The Toldot Aharon already started at 5pm and Avraham Yitzchak did at 6pm.

Because no one seemed to know, we were the only visitors from outside. At least as far as I saw. No one else was there; no national religious, no Israeli tour group, no nothing. This was actually great for us.

Our first destination were the Toldot Aharon.
What can I say ? It was more than packed. As soon as we entered, we only saw women's legs in front of us. All the women had already occupied the metal benches and there was no way for us seeing anything. We ended up standing somewhere in the middle in front of a white metal gate. A metal gate between the metal benches.
One of the Toldot Aharon women was in charge of the gate and she let in only other female group members. Suddenly she turned to me and said that she knows me by sight: "You have been here many times before, right ?"
When I nodded she wanted to let me in. I told her that I am not alone but with two more friends. Actually I didn't need to stand right behind the Mechitzah, as I have seen it hundreds of times before. But maybe she could let in my friend who has never seen such a Tish before.

In the end, all the three of us were allowed to enter in order to stand behind the Mechitzah. The woman explained me that they closed of the best seats due to the presents of the Rebbitzen's family. First we were told that we can only stay for two minutes but then the woman just let us stay. However, after approx. five minutes I felt bad, as more and more women showed up and I didn't want to take away their space. We left and went to the Toldot Avraham Yitzchak.

I have no idea who this particular Toldot Aharon woman, who let us in, was. I thanked her but she didn't want to hear it. So, I am thanking her again this way. Thanks to her from my friends and me.

As Rebbe David Kahn from Toldot Aharon had taken a short break, we went to his brother Rebbe Shmuel Yaakov Kahn and the Avraham Yitzchak. There is was the same. Packed. However, we found some space to stand right behind Rebbitzen Channah. She wore a beautiful costume and couldn't stop swinging to the music of the Avraham Yitzchak band. Great music I have to say.

After half an hour or so, we left and walked through the Mea Shearim Market getting some fresh air. Our present heat wave in Israel makes chassidic Tishes sometimes very difficult. The Ezrot Nashim at Toldot Aharon and Avraham Yitzchak are always too hot and there is no air. At least, the Toldot Aharon have an air condition.

After a few minutes walk, we came to the Neturei Karta Synagogue "Torah veYirah". We heard great enthusiastic singing from inside and decided to have a look. However, the women's entrance only led us to a dining - room and my friends used the opportunity to look for the restroom. While I was waiting for them, a teenager boy showed up and I asked him for the women's entrance to the synagogue. He didn't speak to me but showed me the the door to the Ezrat Nashim.
A few minutes later, we walked into a staircase but couldn't find the right door. In fact, our second friend got lost and in the meantime, some men showed up. But we made everything on time and didn't bother anyone. Unfortunately, we didn't see the synagogue but hopefully next time.

The "Shomrei Emunim" had moved to a bigger hall in order to celebrate and their synagogue was empty. We didn't feel like looking for the other hall and kept on walking. The next destination were the "Mishkenot HaRoim", the secret Mea Shearim group. We were so lucky; many women were walking in and so did we. The Mishkenot HaRoim Synagogue is not too big but has a great Ezrat Nashim. Glass windows and we were able to see everything.

Chassidim were dancing enthusiastically and we really enjoyed the music. We enjoyed all the different bands and chassidic groups and I couldn't say which Tish or celebration was the best. They were all great.

The Mishkenot HaRoim

When we walked over to Chassidut Stropkov, only a few meters further, we saw a Chassid laying on the sidewalk. Obviously drunk but as our second friends is a doctor, she was worried. However, other Chassidim assured her that the drunk was fine but only drunk.

The Stropkov Synagogue is small and the Ezrat Nashim looks rather like a little living room. Of course, it was full and my friend didn't succeed too much in taking a picture through the Mechitzah. I saw very little but again, music was great.

The view through the Stropkov Mechitzah.

Next destination: Karlin - Stolin.
They had especially set up a tent. Everyone could have a look inside and my friend made some photos.

The Karlin - Stolin Chassidim in Jerusalem (on Purim Shushan)

We wanted to go to Satmar (the Beit Midrash of Rebbe Zalman Leib Teitelbaum), Kretchnif and Dushinsky. Instead we decided to go to Sadigora, Kaliv and Chernobyl. Unfortunately, the last three three didn't have anything going on and we ended our trip. I was completely finished and couldn't move my knees anymore. It was a tremendous experience and I am still a little off from all of that.

A Case of "Chutzpah"


Each of us newcomer to religion (Chosrei Be'Teshuva) knows it. Each of us has had such experiences. Don't lie and be honest. And each of us was upset. We might have said to ourselves: "Okay, people only try to help us. Or people just don't know how to behave. In other words, they don't think or are just anything but academic."

The main thing is that we were upset and angry. We might have smiled in order to be polite but deep inside we felt very different. We were hurt.

There were times that when it happened to me, I even thought about leaving religious society. I was simply fed up and asked myself if I really need this. I thought that those people are nothing. How can they say this to me, as I am an academic ? And who are they ? Nevertheless, I realized that it was only the people and NOT G - d or religion. So, I didn't leave, as I am not religious because of society but because of G - d.
You can think that I am arrogant and selfish. Maybe.
But don't forget to admit that you have the same thoughts which turn all of us arrogant.

It seems that "Chosrei Be"Teshuva" as well as converts to Judaism are the main aim of many born religious. Some born (not all of them) Haredim obviously feel a need to tell newcomers what to do and how to behave. You are constantly reminded of not being like them. They always approach you with a friendly face. They even correct you in polite words. They make it look like they only want to help you avoiding mistakes. "Chas veChalilah".

Although they put on their friendly face, every word hits you like a fist into your stomach. These situations are the worst test for anyone entering haredi society. However, it can happen anywhere; even in the national religious world. But within the haredi society it hurts you even more.

Look at you. You are doing any possible effort in order to get accepted. You are so great or at least, try to be so great. You keep the Mitzwot more than 100%. You send your kids to Beit Yaakov or Talmud Torah. You are so kosher. Everything works out just perfect. And then comes a time when someone criticizes you. It might be only something small like a hint. However, it hurts. And most of these "hints" are unnecessary or stupid anyway.

Those are the moments when born Haredim destroy your self - esteem. You start to question yourself. Why are you doing all this ? Wouldn't it be better to live in a "normal" society and keep the Mitzwot there ? For what do I need all these Haredim ?

Throughout my own haredi life I saw many people getting upset. They didn't show it but they were hurt. Even ashamed.
A few days ago, I witnessed such a "hint" given by a chassidic woman. I am not going into details and I am avoiding mentioning the group's name.

The problem many female elderly converts to Judaism face is that according to Halacha, they do not have to cover their hair even if they were married in their former lives. They were married when they were still a Gentile but got divorced for whatever reason. Then they decided to convert to Judaism and Halacha does not consider them as divorced. They are simply singles, as their former life, let alone a marriage to a Gentile doesn't count. As soon as someone converts to Judaism (orthodox), he is a new person with a Jewish soul.

Many women convert when they are in their 40ies, 50ies or even 60ies. As long as they are not married to another Jew, they are not obligated to wear a head cover. But as soon as they enter a haredi synagogue or even talk to Haredim, they are being observed carefully. As the Haredim women don't know that they are converts, they think that those women probably don't know that they should cover their hair. The Harediot simply assume that women in their 50ies without a head cover must be divorced and are thus, obligated to wear a head cover. However, converts don't.
And if then they come up to a convert and try to correct her, the convert is confused. Should she tell her story or rather not ? Why should everybody know anyway ?

Before becoming so eager about telling other people what to do, especially Harediot should start thinking. There is always a benefit of a doubt (Kaf S'chut). Maybe the person has her reason or maybe she really doesn't know. But even if, is it davka your duty to go over and tell other people ?

G - d loves sincere converts and Jews turning to religion.
However, especially the Jews sometimes react differently. And this is not G - d's fault but only the people. Sometimes you really try doing something and then you feel turned away. This is the moment when many Jews turn away from religion and give up.

Many pushy Haredim don't even realize what Chilul HaShem they cause. This is a pity for both sides.

Instead of being so eager correcting others you should rather work on yourself.

The "Purity Committee"


What and who is the so - called "Purity Committee" in Mea Shearim ?

In order to find that out, I obviously need to apply for a job there, get an interview and be accepted. Otherwise no one finds out. Maybe the "Committee" is part of the Edah HaCharedit, maybe not.

Whoever goes through Mea Shearim these days on Purim, can see all the "warning signs" on the walls. Fakshvilim, the Mea Shearim news poster. As the inhabitants have neither radio nor TV, the news has to spread in a different way. Whenever you are interested in the Mea Shearim news, read the Fakshvilim on the walls. Mea Shearim is full of them; they are available in Hebrew or Yiddish. The Edah announces its latest decrees and on the holidays, the "Purity Committee" seems to be very active as well.

The lastest news from the "Committee" is a warning not to let out the Mea Shearim teenagers into the streets on Purim Shushan (in Jerusalem). Evil people from the outside world would walk through Mea Shearim and might influence the pure haredi youth. Using drugs, stealing, going astray, prostitution, whatever you want. The pure youth might be finding itself at Zion Square on the next day. Being turned into something secular. Who knows.

But what exactly is happening when you let out your youngsters ? Are the Purity Members on duty and arrest the teens ? And how do I recognize someone evil from the outside world walking up and down Mea Shearim Street ? Do I belong to those evil people, as I am not from Mea Shearim ? How does the whole thing work at all ?
And who is the "Committee" ? It would be interesting getting some details.

Hopefully no one accuses me of being an evil influence. I can assure the "Purity Committee" that I am only an evil influence to myself and not to others.

Fact is that from a certain age, everyone should have developed his own sense of responsibility. Why is everyone so afraid that especially Yeshiva students could go astray ? Don’t they trust their own students ?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Anything we wanted


Jerusalem was celebrating Purim Shushan today. The weather was great but far too hot: 33 degrees Celsius (90 Fahrenheit).

Thousands were in the streets celebrating. Rabbi Mordechai Machlis organized his traditional Purim party in the late afternoon. It was wild but nice.

Afterwards I took two friends to Mea Shearim. One of them mostly accompanies me to the Tishes on Shabbat and the other one simply wanted to see what we are talking about all the time.

We had an incredible time and tomorrow, I am going to write about our visits in detail. The Tishes we went to were: Toldot Aharon, Toldot Avraham Yitzchak, the Neturei Karta, the Mishkenot HaRoim, Chassidut Stropkov and Karlin - Stolin.

We finally succeeded in getting into the Mishkenot HaRoim Synagogue and saw great dancing taking place. We even made some pictures.
The Mishkenot HaRoim are a kind of secret group (organization) in Mea Shearim. Their head is Rabbi Chaim Rabinovicz and they are members of the anti - Zionist umbrella organization "Edah HaCharedit".

We had an unbelievable time and it was great seeing all those chassidic places. The Mea Shearim Synagogues were open tonight and the Chassidim were very welcoming.

Within the next coming days, I am going to put some more pictures into the blog.

No, I am not Chabad !!!


I am neither Chabad nor in favour of the Chabad - Meshiach idea.
Nevertheless, my friend and I had some fun on Erev Purim and I held up a "Meshiach" - poster. But only for the purpose of a picture.

The Meshichistim from the Chabad Jerusalem branch in Ben Yehudah Street were dancing at Zion Square, and I took the chance.

A Purim bus in Jaffa Road

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Purim in Jerusalem


As you all probably can imagine, I am not having too much time to write at the moment. It is not only the Purim parties but also all the new impressions.
Due to all the nightlong celebrations, my friend and I didn't make it to the second Megillah reading on Friday morning. Although I went to pick her up on time, we decided to stay in her apartment and have breakfast instead. That was it.

In the evening we went for Maariv at Karlin - Stolin, to the Machlis meal and later on to two Tishes: Toldot Aharon and Avraham Yitzchak.

Both Tishes were packed and we only stayed for half an hour each. We were still far to tired to watch and besides, I was in my kind of anti - mood and didn't really care too much. So, we left early and this time, I was glad to get out because I needed to see something else.

But we are having a great time in Jerusalem. Chabad is dancing at Zion Square at the moment. According to all their dancing, the Meshiach should be here already. Or in other words, he never died. At least according to the Meshichistim from the Ben Yehudah No. 5 branch. Someone could have at least dressed up as the Meshiach.

Purim Sameach - Happy Purim !!!!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Breslov & Neturei Karta


Surely I don't need to explain that the greates Purim atmosphere is taking place in Jerusalem. All the action is here. Until now, people celebrate downtown Jerusalem; Ben Yehudah, Zion Square, those are the centers. Due to the warm weather we don't feel like going to sleep.

Quite late I went to Mea Shearim with my friend in order to choose a Synagogue for the Megillah reading. Maybe it sounds funny but there was such a great variety of Synagogues that we first didn't know which one to choose. Satmar or Stropkov ?
Then we stood in front of the Naturei Karta but, last minute, decided to go to the Great Breslov Synagogue in Mea Shearim Street. We didn't regret our decision at all.
The Baal Koreh was incredible. Although the Ezrat Nashim looks a little more like a storage room, the atmosphere was great and the women were extremely friendly. After the davening we were fed with cookies and coke.

Unfortunately, no celebrations took place afterwards. It was more or less quiet in Mea Shearim. We decided to go to Zion Square and there, the action took place. Chabad was totally in action. The Meshichistim from Ben Yehudah No. 5 were dancing to wild Meshiach songs.

My friend had brought her digital camera and we made some pictures; and we will make further ones on Sunday. I grabbed a Meshiach poster with the Lubavitsher Rebbe and my friend took pictures. Hopefully next Monday I am going to put the pictures into the blog. But don't even think that I ran over to Chabad.

Tomorrow morning we are probably going to the Neturei Karta for the Megillah. We will see !!! But don't get the impression that I am Neturei Karta now. Neither Chabad, nor Breslov nor Neturei Karta. Only a "Simple Jew".

The Neturei Karta Synagogue in Mea Shearim

Chassidut Breslov Part 1

Chassidut Breslov Part 2

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Purim Sameach - פורים שמח


"Purim Sameach - A Freilichen Purim and Happy Purim"
to all my readers.

Due to "Purim Meshulash - Tripled Purim" in Jerusalem, I won't be writing too much until next Monday.

Tonight the Purim - Festival is going to start and in order to hear the Megillat Esther (Book of Esther), I am going with a friend in one of the Mea Shearim Synagogues. Hopefully we are able to see something or at least hear the words of the Megillah.

Purim in the Mea Shearim - Ge'ulah neighbourhood is always wild. Far too wild, as everybody is drunk and screaming around.
Some time ago, there was a regular decree in those neighbourhoods, and I am not sure if this is still valid. However, the Rabbis used to tell the women to go and hear the Megillah and right after return home and not to leave the house on Purim night. Wild drunk men might be around and get overcome by their Yetzer HaRah. Who says women are not overcome by their Yetzer HaRah ?

Anyway, my friend and I will have a look around and hopefully see something interesting and spiritual. And we try as hard as we can to stay away from all those Yetzers.

Whoever is still looking for a Megillah - place in Jerusalem:

Chabad's Tzemach Zedek Synagogue is offering the Megillah reading at 6.15pm (tonight). Light refreshments and some Hamantaschen will be served. According to my experience, not much is going o in the Old City tonight. Either go into the new city or to Mea Shearim where all the parties are.

Another place for the Megillah is the Kol Rina Synagogue in Nachlaot, Beer Sheva Street.
Kol Rina is Carlebach - Style and whoever likes such things, will be the right place. Kol Rina also organizes a Purim - Party this Mozzaei Shabbat !!!

Rabbi Mordechai Machlis has a Megillah reading at the Kotel (Western Wall). Friday morning 8:00 o'clock. He is also having a Purim - Party next Sunday, 3.00pm (in his house).

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Chassidic Tish Guide Part 4 - Chassidut Toldot Aharon


Although the Toldot Aharon Tish is not my personal No. 1, it definitely represents one of the most important experiences I ever had in my life. A few years ago someone told me to go to the Toldot Aharon Tish but I refused. What do I have to do with them ? They appeared to be so different, extreme and weird.

Then I was invited to a wedding where the Toldot Aharon Rebbe, Rabbi David Kahn, was supposed to appear. I knew Chassidim from the Chatam Sofer group and their daughter got married to a national religious guy who had decided to become chassidic and join the Toldot Aharon. However, I simply didn't feel like such a religious wedding and stayed at home.

For years I had been passing the synagogue in Shivtei Israel Street, right next to Mea Shearim Street. I heard the great singing inside and thought about going in. Nevertheless, it never seemed to work out.

Last year I decided to describe chassidic groups on my blogs (in German and English) and, as I mentioned before, I found out that literature is not everything. Go out and speak to Chassidim. This wasn't too hard for me since I had been in society before. I know Chassidim and understand Yiddish (my talking is still a mess).

After I wrote about Gur, Breslov, Chabad and Vishnitz, I chose the Toldot Aharon next. I have no idea why, it just came into my mind. Their Tish is well known and one Erev Shabbat, I went with a friend to the synagogue in Shivtei Israel. Actually already for Maariv. After inquiring about where and when, we were told that the Toldot Aharon women don't go to daven on Erev Shabbat. But, at the same time, we were told to come to the Tish later on, as the Rebbe's daughter celebrated her Sheva Berachot (special celebrations after the wedding). So, we went and somehow got stuck. Until today.

Of course, we went to plenty of other Tishes as well but we always love to come back to Toldot Aharon. It is not only the Rebbe, the Chassidim or the songs; the whole atmosphere is just impossible to describe. I have been going there for almost a year now, and enjoyed talking to so many women and young girls. As a female visitor you cannot really have a conversation with the men.

I think one of the reasons why we love their Tish is the friendliness of the group members. They have something special in their behaviour. Maybe due to the Takanot (internal laws) or simply due to their way of upbringing. Of course, you also meet different characters but all the women seem to have something in common, and I am unable to define it. Maybe it is just a feeling. As soon as I asked questions concerning the group, most women were anxious to answer. I heard great stories there and so far, only have positive experiences. And it is due to the Toldot Aharon women that many of my writings come into existence. Not only them but other group members from different chassidic groups. It is the Chassidim themselves playing the most important role on this site and not me.

During the winter, the Toldot Aharon Tish starts at about 10pm, during the summer they start at 11pm.
The Tish lasts for approximately 3.5 hours.

The Toldot Aharon on Sukkot

The two men's entrances are easy to find.
One entrance to the Ezrat Nashim, however, is right at Shivtei Israel. In order to get to the second one, you have to enter the little alleyway to the right of the synagogue, and turn left at the end. There you will get to some stairs. Climb up and enter through the white metal door.

Rebbe David Kahn keeps his Tish organized, no doubt about that. He has a special timetable and starts and finishes on time. There is a sign in Yiddish that women should start leaving the building at least 15 minutes before the Tish ends. This is due to modesty reasons. If men and women were leaving at the same time they would meet in the street outside and come into contact.

Rebbe David Kahn comes in, makes a blessing (Beracha) over Be'samim (herbs) and starts making Kiddush. The same Be'samim custom we saw at the Shomrei Emunim (the first Toldot Aharon split off).

The Rebbe eats a whole meal.

Of course, the men downstairs have more space than the women upstairs. The Ezrat Nashim consists of two large rooms where you can stand or sit on metal benches. They are placed on top of each other and the whole scene looks like a theatre. If you come early you will find a good spot. Especially during the holidays, the place is totally packed and it happened in the past that we left after a few minutes. No chance to see anything.

The women are usually very friendly and extremely helpful. Yiddish is THE language but also Hebrew. Sometimes you find a group member speaking English but you really have to look for someone. Usually the guests know more English. Especially the many Satmar women visiting the Tish.

The Mechitzah is great in most cases. If you find a bad spot, you might stand behind the very few metal Mechizot. Anyway, the more common Mechitzah are the glass windows where you can see everything.

Be aware that during the summer they do not change their huge clocks to daylight saving. As they do not recognize the State of Israel and its laws, they don't change the time. Thus, you are always an hour behind.

All men have a chance to get food from the Rebbe's Tish. At a certain point, you can also line up and shake the Rebbe's hand. Plenty of fruit and cake will be given out before the end of the Tish.

At the end, the Rebbe and all Chassidim hold each other's hand and start swinging.

The Tish is never boring, as there is always something to see.

Location: Toldot Aharon Synagogue in Shivtei Israel, Jerusalem.

The Tish is highly recommendable.

Usually there are many visitors and it is full. The good thing is that most visitors leave early and if you come after midnight, there might be more space.

As the Toldot Aharon were my first chassidic Tish ever and I got to know many women, I always feel a special connection to the place. Whenever they have a Tish, I go. Even for half an hour or so.

If you go to chassidic Tishes, never ever leave out the Toldot Aharon.

Video: Visit of the Toldot Aharon Rebbe in Queens

So, how is Jerusalem ?


Many readers ask me this question. How is Jerusalem and how do you live there ?

For Jerusalemites, this kind of question might sound boring, as we live here and don't even think about it. We just do it and live here. Unfortunately, I have to say that many times we forget to appreciate what we have. We live in the "Holy City" and are able to be Jewish. No one has to justify himself of being Jewish, as we usually have to abroad.

The majority of Jews still lives in the Diaspora, and the vast majority of US - Jewry has never ever visited Israel. Isn't that a shame ? Finally the Jews have their own state and who is not interested ? The Jews themselves. And I am not talking here about some Neturei Karta ideas but about ordinary Jews who are obviously much better off abroad than in Israel.
But not even coming for a visit ?
Well, many people say, Israel is too dangerous for us.
So, what about us ? What about us Israelis ?
Are we not in danger ? And why are we here ?
What I heard about LA ?
You shouldn't walk downtown LA but take a cab or the underground. to me this sounds like I am getting mugged or killed after a five minutes walk. What is more dangerous ? Israel or downtown LA ?

Don't worry, you are not being blown up five minutes after leaving Ben Gurion Airport. In fact, there is hardly anything to see of terrorism. Unless you are planning a Kassam - Rocket visit to Sderot. I myself haven't been to Sderot but would definitely recommend going there. Maybe I should push myself going there as well.

Jerusalem seems to be peaceful. However, I don't visit the Eastern part with its Palestinian population. A few years, the bus I took got stoned near Damascus Gate. Nothing happened, as the windows were made of plastic, and the bus driver just kept on going.

Believe it or not, Jerusalem is actually very save and you can walk anywhere. Walk, as we don't have an underground but might have a tram in another few years. Taxis are everywhere but be aware of getting cheated sometimes.

The good stories never seem to be so interesting. People are used to sensations and love to hear scandals. Maybe I sound boring when I explain that Jerusalem is a great place with great people. Lots to see, lots to experience and every day is different. You never know what the new day will bring. Jerusalem is unpredictable.

If you want terrorism and suffering, just like on CNN:
A friend of mine, Diana Campuzano, was in the Ben Yehudah shopping mall when some suicide bombers decided to blow up themselves. She is from New York and got badly injured but made it.

An acquaintance of mine, Channah Nachenberg, was in the famous SBARRO - pizzeria when it was blown up on August 9, 2001.

And myself ? I was in another suicide bomb on Dec. 1, 2001. Two suicide bombers blew themselves up in the middle of the Ben Yehudah mall. Not to forget mentioning the car bomb which went off. We were just running into one direction and right in front of us, a car blew up.

Is it this you are afraid of ?
For a long time, we Jerusalemites have learned how to deal with our fears. The crazy thing is that we never give up. Maybe due to religion or maybe simply because of joy of life.

Tomorrow night, we will be celebrating Purim and no other Jewish holiday reminds us more of the suffering of the Jewish people. Suffering throughout history and in any place of the world. Not only in Jerusalem.

And if you are religious, you will definitely learn to appreciate Jerusalem very quickly. Hardly any other place in the world can offer such a variety of Jewish life. Hundreds of synagogues, hundreds of different groups, hundreds of Shiurim (religious lectures) and the Temple Mount (Har HaBait). Okay, there are New York or Chicago. So what ? We have the Kotel (Western Wall) and the whole Shechinah (G - d's presents).

If you are a Zionist or not, let me still remind you of one thing:
The first ashkenazi chief rabbi, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, said that the air in Israel is something special and makes wise. The Talmud claims the same.

The air in Jerusalem might be too hot and polluted; but if you take a deep breath - you can feel the difference.
In case you won't die of pollution. Just kidding.

However, I don't want to end without a nice little chassidic story:
Once a certain Chassid returned to his country. He had been to Jerusalem and was now telling his Rebbe that in Jerusalem everything is great; the streets are made out of marble, the houses are out of gold, everything is full of diamonds.
The Rebbe got curious and shortly after visited Jerusalem. But he only saw dirt, it smelled and garbage was everywhere. Disappointed he went home and asked the Chassid where he saw all the marble, gold and diamonds. There was nothing.
The Chassid was stunned and asked: "But it was there. Didn't you see it ?"
The Rebbe thought for a while and locked himself up into his room in order to meditate. "How could it have happened that he missed out the real beauty of Jerusalem ?"

Monday, March 17, 2008

Message for the Desperate


It seems like it always happens to me.
I enter a room and all the desperate in the world start looking at me; let alone would like to talk to me. Somehow I seem to attract them and until last Shabbat, I couldn't even figure out why.

A few times before I mentioned that especially at the extreme chassidic group of Toldot Aharon, I seem to attract desperate girls. So far, I have had two cases.
The first one last September when a girl who I had only seen before once, sat down next to me at a Tish and desperately wanted to talk to me. She appeared out of the blue and asked me if I remember her. First I wanted to tell her the truth and say "NO" but there was something desperate in her eyes and I couldn't resist. So, I said "YES", and she immediately smiled and sat down. She wanted to talk but we were placed behind the Rebbitzen and there were just too many women around. The whole situation scared me a lot and I was glad that no conversation took place.

My second case I had almost two weeks ago. Again at the Toldot Aharon Synagoge during Shacharit. I don't want to go into all the details but another young and obviously newly married woman started starring at me. With same desperate look.

Maybe I sound nuts but that's the way it happened.
I just thought "Oh no, not again". However, the girl sat next to her mother who took her home after some time.

Last Shabbat, my friend and I went to the Toldot Aharon split off, the Toldot Avraham Yitzchak. And you won't believe what happened. Have a guess.

After a short while my friend said that I should carefully look to the left. I did and saw another young obviously newly married woman starring at me. Starring so obvious that even my friend saw it.
We starred and the girl starred but at least, I tried to make it not too obvious. She however, wasn't bothered when we saw her.
When she disappeared after some time, we were released. In the meantime I had also started a conversation with some other Avraham Yitzchak women. We talked and talked and suddenly I looked at the top of the metal benches. And guess who was sitting there ?
The desperate girl hadn't gone home, as we supposed, but instead moved closer. I almost fainted.

My friend and I always call them desperate because they look like they just got married and are unhappy. Unhappy in their marriage, unhappy with their lives, whatever. We can only assume because we don't know anything for sure.

The question is why they stare at me. Why ?
According to my friend they see me coming in and I am different from them. I wear modern clothes and not the chassidic uniform, if I may call it by this name. Well, at least not the Avraham Yitzchak "uniform".

I am different and this fact attracts certain women in the group. Maybe they would like to talk to an outsider. Talk about different issues and not only about religion or Chassidut in a whole. Call it curiosity. Maybe they want advice from someone else or whatever.

I was unable to find a satisfying answer and so was my friend.
At the third meal (Seudat Shlishit) however, I described the situation to another friend who is also a doctor. I thought that she might have a suggestion why it happens particularly to me.
And yes, she had. She told me the following which is true and I appreciate her answer very much.

"You know why ? Because they see you coming to them many times. And many times you speak to different group members. You don't only ask them curious questions, as all the others do, but you talk about different subjects. Such as religion, for instance. It doesn't matter what, but they feel that you care. You just don't come like all the others - run in, ask your questions, don't care and just walk out. You don't simply leave them after five minutes, and this is why they would like to talk."

This is my friend's answer and she is right. I sometimes probably care too much.

Before I got this for me perfect answer, someone asked me the following:

"So, let's say, one of these young women came up to you and started telling you her personal problems. They are unhappy, their husband is not the dream guy and they feel that their life is just miserable. What would your answer be ? How would you react and what would you tell them ?"

If this kind of situation should ever take place, I would feel very much reminded of my own situation. Leaving haredi society and even religion for a while. Only an ignorant person could easily say: "Oh, I have the perfect answer. Leave Mea Shearim and religion. Be free and do whatever you want."
This is ignorant and stupid and whoever suggested such a thing would be an idiot who doesn't care about a person at all.

Once, a few years ago, I was confronted with a similar case and it was an awful feeling. However, this case was different because the Chassid I knew didn't care about G - d and religion. There was no G - d for him and all the stories and Torah were only a big ferrytale.

Believe it or not, I can accept that. Such a person shouldn't force himself being chassidic or religious. Leave them alone and they might even come back to religion later. Who knows ? Maybe they need some time off.

The young women - cases are different. They are religious and want to remain it. Rather they are unhappy with their lives. Let's assume a bad Shidduch or simply curiosity about life.

What has a young chassidic woman of an extreme chassidic group to expect ? Go to school, help your mother in the household and look for a Shidduch. Then you probably get a guy you don't even know (yuck), and additionally you have to shave off your hair. Have children and build a life. Be a good mother and religious.
Is this life ?
In a religious sense surely YES.

Coming from the outside world, I have no difficulties whatsoever finding some understanding for these young women. First of all, not every Jew is made for the chassidic society. Of course, when you are born this way, you don't really have much of a choice. Just like these young woman. What do you do ? You follow the rules and if you don't, you are an outlaw. Do you want to be an outlaw ? Do you want to leave ?

What is waiting for you outside ? A society you don't know at all. A careless and sometimes brutal society. If you don't have understanding parents and / or a rebbe who cares, you are alone. Alone in a new society which doesn't care where you are coming from. No one cares about your stories; no one is able to understand your past.

You have no worldly education and suddenly you are pushed to be just like them. Assimilate. If not, you are an outlaw again.
Where is all the care from your chassidic group ? Where are your friends and your ideals ?

Very soon you will miss your chassidic group and then what ?
Make your way back ? Yes or no ?

Especially for chassidic girls this can be an extremely different matter even if there is help from social workers (at least in Israel).

My answer to my friend's question was that I would try keeping the young women (also a man) within the chassidic group. Not to leave her life behind if she doesn’t want to. If she only wants to get rid of her husband or solve other problems, fine. I am sure that there must be a solution and a way out. Never ever would I recommend to leave, as I know how hard it is.

Leave, have a great life, be free and no more group pressure. That's great.

But what about your feeling guilty all the time ?
Feeling guilty to have left the group and feeling guilty before G - d ? What about your former perfect religious way ? And now G - d says: "What" ?

You would be very alone with your guilt feelings because no outsider will know what you are talking about. No one.
You can leave but wherever you go - your feelings of guilt accompany you. Whatever you do - you feel it even if you sometimes forget about it.

I hope it will never happen that one of the young women is going to talk to me, as it is not my intention solving internal group problems. But if, I would do my utmost keeping her where she is and try to find a social worker within, and if impossible, outside the group. But someone religious.

Hopefully the situation will never happen although the desperate look at me.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

"Making an Effort"


Especially before an upcoming holiday, most chassidic Rebbes hold their Tishes. This might be nothing special in New York, however, in Jerusalem it is. Many chassidic Rebbes live in Bnei Brak and hardly ever come to their Jerusalem communities over Shabbat. But usually before or on the holiday itself, most Rebbes arrive. And, as you can imagine, last Erev Shabbat, my friend and I had a great choice of Tishes.

The Maariv prayer we spent, how could it be anywhere else, with Karlin - Stolin in Mea Shearim. As soon as I opened the door to the Ezrat Nashim, I saw that something special is going on. There were more women than ususal and it was completely packed downstairs at the men's section. At least 300 Chassidim were praying and crowds even gathered in the little alleyway between the benches. No space.
All kinds of Chassidim were there; especially Satmarer.

I looked around and spotted out the Karliner Rebbe (Jerusalem). He has his center in the Jerusalem outskirts of Givat Zeev and only sometimes comes to Mea Shearim. But there he was. It was the first time we ever saw him.

Grand Rebbe Baruch Yaakov Meir Schochet of Karlin-Stolin in Jerusalem

After the ecstatic Maariv prayer, someone announced in Yiddish that a Tish is taking place. I asked a woman for more details and was told that the Tish is actually only for men. When I said that this is very sad and what the women do now, I was told that the women go home. That's it.

The Karliner woman I spoke to told me that an extra tent had been set up for the Tish and the tent was too small anyway. She wasn't sad at all that she wasn't able to participate. Maybe the women were even happy because the weather was quite chilly. Or am I thinking too practical ?

As soon as Maariv was over, all the Chassidim ran outside. Probably to make Kiddush at home, eat, and then come back for the Tish. Most of the Satmarer ran into the Satmarer Beit Midrash right across. The Beit Midrash in Yoel Street belongs to one of the two Satmarer Rebbe's, Rabbi Zalman Leib Teitelbaum. However, the Shabbat meal in the Beit Midrash was only for men and we couldn't participate. Instead we started walking to the Maalot Dafna neighbourhood where Rabbi Mordechai Machlis lives and decided to have our meal there.
When we turned from Yoel Street into Mea Shearim Street, we met a mutual haredi friend. All the three of us walked down the street and right in front of the "Mishkenot HaRoim - Synagogue", I had this "great" idea of sending our haredi friend into the synagogue in order to speak to the Chassidim.

The "Mishkenot HaRoim" are a rather secret Mea Shearim group and only one picture exists. They are members of the Edah HaCharedit and it is extremely hard to get into their synagogue or in any other touch with them. Two Shabbatot ago, they had a Tish but the two entrances were for men only. I already thought about putting on a Streimel and buying a beard. It is so annoying when everything is just for men.

The "Mischkenot HaRoim". In the middle with white scarf: Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Ullmann from Chassidut Dushinsky

So, I sent in our haredi friend who turned out to be a failure.
A blog reader once told me that I should sent in a man in order to find out more about the Mishkenot HaRoim. I did and I wish I had gone myself. Even if the Mishkenot HaRoim had fainted.
You send in a man and he messes up everything. The only thing he asked was if we are allowed to come in and if there is an Ezrat Nashim. A very nice Chassid told our friend a whole story and when he came back, we asked about the information he had just received. But, as our friend wasn't interested in the whole subject, he hadn't even listen to the Chassid. Can you imagine ?
However, I heard from the Mishkenot HaRoim Chassid that we are allowed to come in. But…..their women only pray in the mornings. Whatever. This is at least something.
But I promise, no further men are being send to collect information.

We went to Rabbi Machlis's meal and came back to Mea Shearim at about 10.45pm. Late, I thought.
Again we walked down Mea Shearim Street and I assumed that the "Shomrei Emunim - Guardians of Faith" might have a Tish. We entered the backyard, climbed up the stairs and yes, there was a Tish. The Shomrei Emunim Rebbe, Rabbi Avraham Chaim Roth, had arrived from Bnei Brak. It was only our second time participating in the Tish.

The Rebbe of the "Shomrei Emunim": Rabbi Avraham Chaim Roth

We were even lucky because not too many women had arrived yet. The Mechitzah at the Shomrei Emunim is a little catastrophe. It is small and hard to look through. However, we found a great spot and could see almost everything.

Although the Shomrei Emunim are NO member of the Edah HaCharedit and keep themselves separate from their "competitor" Toldot Aharon, you can feel some kind of originality. It is definitely because of Rebbe Avraham Chaim Roth who is the son of Rebbe Aharon Roth, the original founder of the later Toldot Aharon. When Rebbe Arele died in 1947, his Chassidim chose his son - in - law, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kahn, as the successor and not his son, Rabbi Avraham Chaim. The result was that Rebbe Avraham Chaim left and founded his own group, the Shomrei Emunim.

Rebbe Avraham Yitzchak Kahn, his two sons, whatever….the present Shomrei Emunim Rebbe still epitomizes the original atmosphere, whereas the present Toldot Aharon Rebbe as well as the Avraham Yitzchak Rebbe have changed the groups in many ways. Especially the original customs. Rebbe David Kahn introduced some Satmarer customs and his brother, Rebbe Yaakov Shmuel Kahn, took over Vishnitzer customs. It could be that Rebbe Avraham Chaim Roth changed as well, however, he is the son of Rebbe Arele and that means something.

I loved the Shomrei Emunim Tish from the moment I entered. They do have plenty of male visitors coming in. When we were there, at least 70 Chassidim joined the Tish. Rebbe Roth sang first and the Chassidim joined later. Besides Belz, the Shomrei Emunim have the greatest songs. At least according to what we have experienced so far.

Rebbe Roth does Kiddush and Netillat Yadaim with high Kavanah and takes his time. You can see that he just doesn't do it because he has to but also really means is. And this is what I like.
I was already planning to stay for the whole Tish, as more and more women were filling up the Ezrat Nashim and started to squeeze us in from all sides. This was the moment when I decided to leave and I really felt sorry. Hopefully Rebbe Roth has another Tish this coming Shabbat.

Our second destination were the Toldot Aharon.
This was a very short visit. We walked in, got a shock and walked out. Three minutes only. You cannot imagine what was going on. Hundreds of women stood behind the Mechitzah and we had no chance in squeezing ourselves in. Maybe we should have learned better from the Shomrei Emunim women….

We left and walked over to Toldot Avraham Yitzchak.
Almost the same picture. The Ezrat Nashim was packed and for the next two hours or so, we were only standing. But not only somewhere but right behind Rebbitzen Channah and her chair.

The Mosdot Toldot Avraham Yitzchak in Mea Shearim.

Countless times I have written about the Avraham Yitzchak Tish and now I only want to describe a little what was going on behind the scenes last Erev Shabbat. However, not without mentioning that the Toldot Avraham Yitzchak Tish is my most beloved Tish in Mea Shearim. Rebbe Shmuel Yaakov Kahn is a great entertainer and I like him very much. It is very obvious that he cares for his Chassidim on a personal level. Well, he can do so, as his group is not too big.

To the far right: Rebbe Shmuel Yaakov Kahn

I know that I always mention the Toldot Aharon but they and other groups are only my No. 2.
Sorry, to say this.

All Rebbes we have seen so far are great and care for their Chassidim, however Rebbe Yaakov Shmuel is something special. He sings, dances and celebrates…..unbelievable.

After we were watching the Tish for a while, my friend leaned over and whispered that some Avraham Yitzchak women would like to speak to me. Four women sitting right behind us looked at me rather anxiously. Who we are, where we are from, all kinds of questions. They had seen us several times before and were curious. In their eyes we might have been some phonies but we ended up in a great discussion.

While answering all the questions, more and more women came over and sat down. They wanted to listen to our discussion and many didn't even look at the Rebbe anymore. They seemed to be so anxious talking to someone else and hearing other opinions. In other words, their curiosity totally overtook them. I could have asked them whatever I wanted, as they were in their talking mood. But I am not after people's private lives because it is none of my business. Instead, we ended up in a great religious discussion and I personally gained a lot from it.

I told them that once I had studied at a haredi Yeshiva but then got a crisis and left society.
This didn't make them faint at all.
They also weren't surprised when I told them about my talmudic studies.
Then we discussed how someone could become more religious and slowly find his way back into haredi society.
I told them that many times I feel guilty: "When I see you guys, I always feel guilty."

I told them that the week before, I had been for Shacharit at the Toldot Aharon Synagogue where I saw and heard nothing from the davening. It was too packed and the Mechitzah was a disaster. I ended up sitting with my Sidur and looking for the right prayer and page. This was another disaster because I didn't heard anything from the prayers downstairs. Finally I decided to say the regular prayers on my own.
The Avraham Yitzchak women responded the following:
"You did the right thing. You said your own prayers and made an effort. This is exactly what G - d wants from you."

I replied that I felt a kind of stupid because all the Toldot Aharon women seemed to know where we were but I was just too embarrassed to ask and bother them all the time. And to me, they looked busy praying all the time. Wow, so intense, Kavanah and everything.

Response of the Avraham Yitzchak women:
"How do you know if people really pray ? Don't you think that also their minds wander around. Sometimes people look like they are praying but they are not. We are all human beings and it is extreme important that one at least makes an effort."

In the meantime, more and more women were taking their seats next to us and listened. We were really the attraction.
I am sure that almost the whole Ezrat Nashim knew after a while were my friend and I were from. And in the end, even my English speaking friend found an Avraham Yitzchak woman from New York to talk to.

After the Tish was finished, I investigated about Purim and the women told me to come. On Sunday (Purim in Jerusalem) a great Tish is taking place in the late afternoon and I promised to show up.
I am really looking forward to it.

What I learned from that night ?
Not everybody is perfect and I was amazed how easily the Avraham Yitzchak women dealt with the fact that not every Jew is on the highest level or faces certain difficulties finding the right page in the Sidur. It is the effort that counts and they are right.
How could I forget about this tiny but important fact ?
I needed to go to Toldot Avraham Yitzchak to get reminded.

Most Rebbes are going to celebrate Purim in Jerusalem:

The Gerer Rebbe will be here and give a Tish.
But - MEN ONLY !!! As usual.

The Rebbe of Karlin - Stolin is staying in Givat Zeev but the regular prayer is taking place in Jerusalem as usual.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Belzer Rebbe and Bikur Cholim


The Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, took part in the Mitzwah of Bikur Cholim (visiting the sick) last week. He went to the Shaarei Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem and visited all the injured of the latest terror attack at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva.

The parents of the murdered Yeshiva students also received messages from Chassidut Satmar as well as from the Neturei Karta.

Satmar said that they are very sorry about what had happened and that they seriously participate in the mourning.

Additionally, the Neturei Karta espressed its condolences. However, in the last sentence of the letter they reminded everybody of the three oaths.

Friday, March 14, 2008



Another Shabbat is coming up and I admit that I haven't made up too many plans so far. This morning I went to a Pirkei Avot - Shiur where a friend of mine gave a party afterwards. She had just converted to Judaism and now all the Shiur participants including the Rabbi were enjoying cake and fruit salad.

For Maariv, I will take the same friend to Karlin - Stolin. The Karliner Chassidim are becoming one of my most popular groups in Mea Shearim. I love their prayers because everyone is so full of Kavanah that he forgets everything else around him. We always hear about great emotional prayers with the highest Devekut possible. How Zaddikim cling to the upper worlds. Hence, to G - d.
Okay, you hear it and that's it. But seeing and experiencing it is something completely different. As soon as you see the devotion of the Karliner Chassidim, you just feel like joining the prayers.

Afterwards we are going to our regular Shabbat dinner and later, we will be back in Mea Shearim. It is Tish time and especially before and on Purim, all the Rebbes will be around.

Tomorrow morning, I am definitely going for Shacharit to Mea Shearim / Ge'ulah. I don't think it will be the Toldot Aharon Synagogue, as last Shabbat I hardly heard anything from the prayers going on; let alone seeing anything.
No, tomorrow it has to be something more visible.

Coming back to the terrible events at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva last week:
Last night, the Yeshiva in the Kiryat Moshe neighbourhood held a memorial service for the eight terror victims. The Synagogue was packed and hundreds of people stood outside in front of the Yeshiva. Screens had been put up and I was there to participate.

The Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, gave an emotional Derasha. He was crying during his whole speech and sometimes even had to stop.
The Rabbi stressed that we should never give up hope. Am Israel has a special Kedusha and we have to keep it alive and continue studying Torah.

Shabbat Shalom to all of you !!!
Gut Shabbes !!!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Chassidic Tish Guide Part 3 - Chassidut Slonim


Before anyone is asking:
Here I am only talking about the Slonim in Jerusalem and not yet about the Slonim in Bnei Brak.

When I started going to all the chassidic Tishes almost a year ago, a friend of mine mentioned the Slonim. I should really go and have a look. I admit that I had never heard about the Slonim before and started to get curious. I made some inquiries and a haredi guy told me the way to the Wohl Center.

The Slonim in Mea Shearim are a rather big group and well known for their cleanliness. Everything has to be spotless.
But other Chassidim also talk about the ongoing war between the Slonim in Bnei Brak and their counterpart in Jerusalem. Two different Rebbes and two slightly different philosophies. Apparently the Jerusalemer Slonim are more moderate and thus being called the "white Slonim". In Bnei Brak they are more stringent and thus being called the "black Slonim".

For anyone interested in the Slonim history, here is a great site:

The Slonim have a direct lineage to the Baal Shem Tov. Even through Rabbi Aharon the Great, the founder of Chassidut Karlin.
Although I haven't dealt so much with the Slonim yet, I do love reading their Torah commentaries. The present Slonimer Rebbe (Jerusalem), Rabbi Shmuel Brozovsky, wrote a great Torah commentary called " Darchei Noam"; a commentary which I use quite frequently for my German weekly Torah portion (Parashat HaShavua).

We all have our preferences in life; there are things we love and other things we like less. Things we can immediately connect to and the complete opposite. This happened with me and the Slonim.
I don't know why but I simply cannot connect to the them. Especially not to their Niggunim (songs) at the Tish. There are very few Niggunim I like. A Chassid (not from the Slonim) told me that there songs are rather heavy. Slow and somehow sad. I don't know how to describe it in a better way. It doesn’t mean that I don't like them; but somehow the Slonim are not my cup of tea.
First I said to myself that I should go more often. Get to know the people and everything. This is very true and unfortunately, I haven't met too many of the Slonim women yet. To none of them I have ever spoken so far. The problem is that their women hardly appear at the Tish. I am sure they are great people but I just cannot connect. Not to the Niggunim but to the Rebbe's teachings.

The Slonim Tish always starts at about 10pm (Erev Shabbat), and lasts for approx. two hours.

Rebbe Shmuel Brozovsky doesn't have a meal but emphasizes on Niggunim.

The present Slonimer Rebbe of Jerusalem: Rebbe Shmuel Brozovsky

As I said there aren't too many Slonim women at the Tish and most female visitors are strangers (particularly young haredi girls). It seems that the national religious and secular Israeli visitors don't know the Slonim Tish or the group at all.

The Slonim complex is rather big and basically consists of two huge buildings: the synagogue and the building where the Tishes take place. The complex is called "Wohl Center".

The men's section is downstairs and very easy to find. The Ezrat Nashim (women's entrance) is not easy to find. Especially not when there are no further women around who can show you the door.
The first time, my friend and I went to the Slonim turned out to be a small catastrophe. By mistake, we walked into the men's entrance and as soon as we were spotted out by three men, they immediately turned around to the wall in order not to look at us.
I hope we weren't that ugly.

Anyway I asked the guys where the Ezrat Nashim is and they gave us directions with their hands without looking at us.
So, don't you ever dare talking to a Slonim guy !!!

The entrance to the Ezrat Nashim is on the left of the men's entrance. From the outside. The door is separate, walk all the stairs to the top.

The Mechitzah consists of wood. If you find a good spot, you are able to overlook everything.

Usually the Tish is packed with a few hundred Chassidim. Sometimes it is hard for men to find a good place, as the Tish is crowded.

It looks like men are being checked when they walk in. There is always a Slonim Chassid near the door and looks at visitors coming in. Once he walked straight up to some litvishe guys and told them to behave. The Slonim might have had some bad experiences in the past. Who knows ?

There is a great Tish custom which I love to see:
Chassidim line up and each of them bows down to the Rebbe. A nice personal way of saying "Gut Shabbes".

The Slonim Tish is perfect for those of you who like it more quiet. Not all the dancing and jumping around. It is definitely not a wild Tish but very crowded.

Location: Right behind the Mea Shearim market, behind the Mosdot Toldot Avraham Yitzchak. The Slonim synagogue looks new and has coloured windows.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Scream Out !!!


Months ago I used to disappear in the masses. When I came to a chassidic Tish, some chassidic women spoke to me because I asked some questions. That's it. Nothing further. Walking through the door, enjoying the Tish, occasionally asking some questions, leave. Nothing else.

But in the meantime, chassidic women start recognizing me. Especially some from the chassidic group of Toldot Aharon. Countless times I went to their Tishes and spoke to people. Recently I had long and rather intense conversations with some of their women at a Tish. And don't even ask to how many different women I spoke when I went to Rebbe David Kahn's grandsons wedding. Additionally I went to their Shacharit prayer on Shabbat. So, of course, people start recognizing me and last Shabbat, right after Shacharit, another woman started talking to me who later turned out to be a family member of one of the most distinguished rabbis in Chassidut Toldot Aharon.

Two things have been bothering me lately.
The first thing is that during the week I mostly wear pants.
So, what if someone of the Chassidim recognize me ?

In Jerusalem, and I suppose anywhere else in haredi society as well, you are being judged by your clothes. A woman wears a skirt and long sleeves. That's it and there is no further discussion about it. If she does go out in pants, then she is secular. She must be secular because otherwise she wouldn't do so.
And here we come to a point which really bothers me. However, I can complain as much as I like, there is no way of changing anyone's opinion. This I know very well. Too well.

Not that I am constantly walking through haredi areas and putting myself into the danger of being seen. However, once a week, I do have to pass Ge'ulah and there is no way around. Maybe I could walk through Bar Ilan Street but this would be too far off.

Every Tuesday at about 8.15pm, I walk through Strauss Street down Yechezkel. Rabbi Mordechai Machlis in the Maalot Dafna neighbourhood gives a Shiur. And every Tuesday night, walking through Ge'ulah in pants turns out to be Gehinnom. Wherever I go, I have to watch out if I know someone. Two weeks ago I was standing at a red light at Kikar Shabbat and right across stood a Toldot Aharon woman I know. I immediately recognized her because she just looks like one of my aunts. She was busy talking to some girls and didn't see me. And I was busy hiding. Last night, almost the same happened.
I feel like everyone is staring at me.

You could say that before I go, I should change my clothes. What's the big deal ?

The only thing is that I am not coming from home but from somewhere else and thus don't get changed.

You could claim that it is high time for me to make up my mind and decide what I want. I have messed around enough and should pull myself together and get ready for some kind of a return into the haredi world.

Yes, that's true, but at the moment, I am somehow unable of pulling myself anywhere. And I have no idea why.
It might be fear of doing the same mistakes as before and eventually ending up in a new terrible crisis.

You could also claim that I could still change my clothes at the place where I come from. Don't they have a restroom or something ?

Yes, and this claim I accept and will handle it just like this next Tuesday.

So far, I solved the Tuesday issue. At least temporarily.

Another thing bothering me very much is that I haven't told the Toldot Aharon that I write on the Internet. I have told anyone else: Karlin - Stolin, Dushinsky, Vishnitz, Belz, Gur, with Kretchnif I am on a serious way and Toldot Avraham Yitzchak (one member). Actually I am planning much more with Toldot Avraham Yitzchak.

However, so far it has never turned out with any Toldot Aharon woman, informing them of what I am doing. There hasn't just been a perfect opportunity yet. Sometimes I was about to tell but at the last moment, I simply couldn't say anything.

Other Chassidim and some friends of mine said that I just have to wait for the right opportunity and this is what I have been doing so far. However, any time I go there, I feel like I am exploding.
I really want them to know because I am not the type of playing games with them or anyone else.


For anyone of you not being familiar with Jerusalem:
The Maalot Dafna neighbourhood is right behind Ge'ulah / Mea Shearim.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Chassidic Tish Guide Part 2 - Chassidut Dushinsky


Don't be ashamed to admit that you have never ever heard about the chassidic group Dushinsky. You are not alone and most Israelis are not even aware that there is such group.

In the chassidic world, on the other hand, Dushinsky is well known. At least among the members of the anti - Zionist umbrella organization "Edah HaCharedit", such as Satmar, Spinka, Toldot Aharon or Avraham Yitzchak. But it is not unusual that Chassidim of "Agudat Israel" groups such as Vishnitz, Belz or Gur, don't know Dushinsky. Nevertheless, Dushinsky plays a very important role in the Edah and Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Ullmann is a member of the Beit Din Zedek of the Edah.

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Ullmann is sitting in the middle (white scarf)

The Dushinsky group is relatively new. It is one of the few chassidic groups being named after a family name and not after a Shtetl. Additionally, Dushinsky does not have a direct line to the Baal Shem Tov. Instead, the group was founded approx. 70 years ago by Rabbi Yosef Zvi Dushinsky. The group is extremely anti - Zionist and in 1948, founder Rebbe Yosef Zvi tried to convince the UN not to agree to the foundation of a State of Israel.

See more on anti - Zionism here:

Anti - Zionist or not, there is a demand for the chassidic Dushinsky Tish. Especially from other Chassidim of the Edah. However, you can also find the national religious and litvishe visiting the Tish. Maybe a little less but probably due to the reason that Dushinsky is not too known.

During the winter months, the Tish starts at about 10pm, during the summer months at 11pm (on Erev Shabbat).

The Tish is smaller than in other chassidic groups and there is a more familiar atmosphere. Nevertheless, at least 200 Chassidim participate. Maybe even more.

Rebbe Yosef Zvi Dushinsky (not the one who went to the UN) does not eat a whole meal but usually gives a Derasha or sings together with his Chassidim.

Sometimes a well - known Edah Rabbi participates and also gives a Derasha.

The Dushinsky buildling complex looks a little neglected. The new synagogue right next to the old building looks just the opposite. Brandnew and very nice. The old complex might look neglected, however, it is kept clean.

The Tish lasts for about two hours. At the end, the Rebbe dances around the Tish together with some Chassidim. He usually does so three times. Afterwards the Rebbe says "Gut Shabbes" to every male participant. A custom I like very much because it is very personal and shows care.

Men and women have separate entrances. The entrance to the Ezrat Nashim is anything but easy to find. Of course, there are signs and arrows but sometimes you get lost with all the directions. Don't ask the male Chassidim, as they usually don't reply. Wait until someone female or litvish shows up. This once happened to me and my friend. A litvishe guy asked a Dushinsky Chassid and then explained us the way to the Ezrat Nashim.

However, the women's entrance is at the backside of the old building. Turn to the right, walk until the end of the fence, then turn left, enter the little gate, go straight and then left until the last door. Climb all the stairs until the top.

I found the Dushinsky women rather reserved but this might change in case you come regularly. But as soon as you ask something, you definitely get an answer without any hesitation.

Space behind the Mechitzah is rather limited, so be there early.

The Mechitzah is okay and once you got a place, you are able to see everything.

If you are at the Ezrat Nashim, just turn around and don't only look at the Tish but also at the new synagogue across the Mechitzah. Very worth seeing !!!

I got the impression that Rebbe Yosef Zvi Dushinsky very much cares for his Chassidim on a personal level. He looks like a respected person.

You don't necessarily have to agree to the Dushinsky policy, however, visiting their Tish is highly recommended. No matter if female or male.

Location: Shmuel HaNavi Street in Jerusalem

The present Dushinsky Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Zvi Dushinsky